In addressing a global audience of young adult Latter-day Saints on Sunday, Sept. 11, Elder Dale G. Renlund issued a simple invitation: Learn and understand the history of the Church and learn from the example of its members by reading “Saints: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent.”
“Our history is inspiring,” said Elder Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “This history is our shared heritage, whether we descend from early pioneers, later pioneers, or if we are pioneers in the faith.”
The Apostle was joined by his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund, in speaking to a few thousand young adults gathered in the historic Salt Lake Tabernacle, but their message was broadcast to hundreds of thousands more online on Sunday.
The two focused their address on experiences recorded in the third volume of the “Saints” series, which released earlier this year.
“This narrative history includes stories of faithful Latter-day Saints of the past. It gives us real-life examples of people who loved the gospel of Jesus Christ, made covenants, and moved along the covenant path to come to know our Savior, Jesus Christ,” Elder Renlund said.
Sister Renlund explained that this “Saints” volume chronicles the history of the Church between the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893 and the dedication of the Bern Switzerland Temple in 1955.
“During this time, continuing revelation is manifest in the Church through the Lord’s prophets and to individual members. Volume 3 of ‘Saints’ helps us understand our own history, the people who lived it and our Savior,” she said.
Redemption of the dead
Elder Renlund shared a quote from President Russell M. Nelson, who has taught that the Restoration “is a process, not an event, and will continue until the Lord comes again.”
An example of the “ongoing Restoration of the Church,” Elder Renlund said, would include an experience of Church President Joseph F. Smith.
In 1918, death seemed to surround the aging Church leader. His oldest son, Hyrum, died suddenly of a ruptured appendix. Hyrum’s widow, Ida, died of heart failure shortly after. World War I was raging with horrific casualties, and a deadly strain of influenza was killing people around the world. In addition, President Smith was in poor health and bedridden.
“It is fair to say that death was on the Prophet’s mind,” Elder Renlund said.
On Oct. 3, 1918, President Smith sat in his room in the Beehive House, opened to 1 Peter and read about the Savior preaching to the spirits in the spirit world.
“The Spirit descended upon [President Smith], opening [the] eyes of [his] understanding,” Sister Renlund related.
President Smith understood that the Savior organized the righteous spirits to carry the gospel to those in darkness. “In this way, all people who died in transgression or without a knowledge of the truth could learn about faith in God, repentance, vicarious baptism for the remission of sin, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and all other essential principles of the gospel,” she said.
The next morning, President Smith attended general conference despite his poor health and stood unsteadily at the pulpit. He lacked the strength to speak of his vision but alluded to it. After general conference, he dictated the revelation to his son Joseph Fielding Smith. It was endorsed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and canonized as the 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
“We now understand that God cares about those on the other side of the veil of mortality. He cares about their redemption. The ‘dead’ are not really dead. The ongoing Restoration brought this understanding to us and brings comfort and clarification about the next world,” Sister Renlund said.
Families sealed to one another
Elder Renlund observed that revelation often comes due to a specific need. As an example, he spoke of the April 1894 general conference — 50 years after Elijah restored the sealing authority in the Kirtland Temple — where Church President Wilford Woodruff announced the need to seal children to their parents and “they to their parents just as far back as we can possibly obtain the records.”
“Since the Nauvoo years, members had been doing baptisms for the dead for deceased family members. But the importance of being sealed to one’s own ancestors had not yet been revealed,” Sister Renlund explained.
On the Sunday of the 1894 conference, President Woodruff explained: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. … Have children sealed to their parents, and run their chain through as far as you can get it.”
The Prophet then urged the Saints to seek out their kindred dead.
“This revelation provided the reason for members to return frequently to the temple to perform proxy ordinations and ordinances for their deceased ancestors,” Sister Renlund noted. “Families started keeping careful records of their ordinances and the work that they had done to complete them.”
This revelation also had a direct impact on Elder Renlund’s family, he said, on the faraway island of Larsmo, off the coast of Finland. His paternal grandparents, Lena Sofia and Matts Leander Renlund, learned of the restored gospel and were baptized in 1912.
In 1917, Leander died of tuberculosis, leaving Lena Sofia a widow and pregnant with their tenth child, Elder Renlund’s father. Sickness continued to take family members, and she eventually buried seven of her 10 children.
Elder Renlund noted that for nearly two decades, she did not get a good night’s rest as she worked to scrape together food during the day and nursed dying family members at night. “It is hard to imagine how Lena Sofia coped.”
Elder Renlund met his grandmother when he was 11 and she was 87. Though stooped and weather-beaten from a lifetime of hard labor, she pointed to a picture of Leander and said in Swedish, “Det här är min gubbe.” “This is my hubby.”
As an 11-year-old, Elder Renlund said he did not understand. However, “Lena Sofia knew that her long dead husband was and would remain hers through the eternities. Through the doctrine of eternal families, Leander had remained a presence in her life and part of her great hope for the future.”
The law of tithing
Sometimes revelation comes in a moment, Sister Renlund said, which was the case with Church President Lorenzo Snow. In 1898, the Church was in a difficult financial condition. At the height of its anti-polygamy campaign, the United States Congress had authorized the confiscation of Church property. Worried the government would seize their donations, many Saints stopped paying tithing.
Early one morning, President Snow announced to his son LeRoi that he was going to St. George, which was a 200-mile trip by train and then another 105 miles by carriage — an arduous journey for the 85-year-old Prophet.
The day after they arrived, President Snow met with members in the St. George Tabernacle. Sister Renlund shared how when President Snow stood to address the Saints, he said, “We can scarcely express the reason why we came, yet I presume the Lord will have somewhat to say to us.”
During the sermon, President Snow paused, Elder Renlund said, his eyes brightened, his countenance shone, his voice grew stronger. “The inspiration of God seemed to fill the room.” The Prophet then spoke on tithing. “This is an essential preparation for Zion,” President Snow said.
Later, President Snow taught, “We are in a fearful condition, and because of it the Church is in bondage. The only relief is for the Saints to observe this law.” The Church president promised members the Lord would bless them for their efforts. He also declared that tithe paying would be a requirement for temple attendance.
“Since that time, many can testify that the Lord does pour out His richest blessings on those who are willing to obey this simple law,” Sister Renlund said and shared the experience of the Yanagida family in Japan, who struggled to pay tithing post-World War II. Nevertheless, they were obedient and through some miracles were able to reach their dream of owning their own home.
“Saints around the globe have had similar experiences when they paid tithing,” Elder Renlund said. “The Lord blesses His people who are faithful and obedient. And it is the faithful payment of tithing that has allowed temples to be built around the world.”
Power of coming to know the Savior
Elder and Sister Renlund also shared the remarkable story of how the first sisters were called to serve as full-time missionaries in England in the late 1890s and an amazing example of former enemies overcoming animosity in the Netherlands after World War II.
“There are so many more inspiring stories from Church history during this time frame as told in ‘Saints,’ volume 3, stories from every part of the world,” Sister Renlund noted.
Elder and Sister Renlund alluded to other stories included in the volume, including William Daniels, who served faithfully in segregated Cape Town, South Africa; Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales in Mexico, who were martyred for their faith; Alma Richards, the first Latter-day Saint to win an Olympic medal; Hirini Whaanga and his wife, Mere, from New Zealand; Helga Meiszus, a young woman Latter-day Saint in Nazi Germany; and Evelyn Hodges, a social worker during the Great Depression.
“Why would we spend so much time telling these stories?” Elder Renlund asked his young adult audience. “It’s because these stories give us real-life examples of the power of coming to know our Savior.”
The Apostle concluded by testifying: “I know that Jesus Christ lives and leads this Church and watches over His covenant people, who are armed with the power of God in great glory. I invoke a blessing on you that you will feel the Savior’s love in your life as you draw closer to Him and His Church.”